Trend Watch

Will: Pence 'Oleaginous'

Searches rise 8800% after Washington Post column


Oleaginous greased its way to the top of our lookups on May 10th, 2018, after the word was wielded by Washington Post columnist George Will in a stinging attack on the Vice President.

The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure.
— George Will, The Washington Post, 9 May 2018

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Photo: Gage Skidmore

The word ultimately comes from the Latin oleagineus (“of an olive tree”).

The word may mean either “resembling or having the properties of oil,” or “marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality.” The former is the initial sense in which oleaginous was used in English; it seems likely that Will was employing the latter. The “oily” sense is considerably older, in use since the 15th century. The “offensively ingratiating” sense began to be used in the early 19th century.

With all these facts before me, and in spite of the pretty sentiments and oleaginous style of the aforementioned reviewer of Sir Thomas’s “Life,” I cannot help suspecting greatly, that the morality of the deceased portrait-painter was of a very every-day and flexible description.
The Examiner (London, Eng.), 21 Aug. 1831

The word came to English from Middle French, which took it from the Latin oleagineus (“of an olive tree”).



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